Classic example.

A Short History Of Surfing With Ya Bits Out

We dress it down to the naked truth

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It saddens me that wax on balls is now taken as a reference to male grooming.

It wasn’t always thus. One perfect Mentawaian evening I discovered I was the last one left in the lineup. So it seemed proper that I should entertain the drinkers on our boat with a nudie barrel. It was only after I’d taken off, boardies around neck, that I realised (a) I was too deep and (b) I hadn’t reattached the leggie when I took the boardies off. When the barrel pinched the boardies disappeared, along with the board, and it was a long, long humiliating walk down the reef to retrieve it.

Historical pictures suggest the Polynesians surfed nude. Modern ads suggest the best thing you can say about boardshorts is that they feel like they aren’t there (a notion which springs from the same logic as ‘You’d like my cat. It’s more like a dog’). So if surfing’s purest state is naked, why aren’t we doing it more? Why are the alaia pilots rocking beaver tails, not…beavers?

‘Pride before a fall’ might be one reason: drunk teenagers running to the beach and disrobing for the skinnydip, only to find afterwards they’ve been robbed of their threads by giggling opportunists. Or New Romantics talking their way into a moonlit surf at the Pass with a winsome fellow streaker, only to emerge shrunken with fright at the terror of attracting a whitey with their luminous wobbling bits.

Most often it’s neither purism nor lust that drives these displays – it’s straight-up showing off. Bugs, our sainted elder statesman, did a cover shot and six-page spread with Paul Neilson in their birthday suits in Tracks in the late seventies. There were even topless girls pouring champagne into Bugs’s smirking gob, a context for which the word “cavorting” seems specifically invented. Phil Jarratt, who owns up to editing this priceless piece of Bacchanalian slapstick, confesses now that he has “no idea what we were thinking.”

Brad Gerlach and Rod Kerr ran the gauntlet at Hossegor in ’91, overcome by all the Gallic joie de vie. Though nothing could redeem the awfulness of those Momentum-gen boards, their aggressive display of nudités was visually preferable to three-quarter length boardies. Dean Morrison, for whom unveiling is a regular failing, once outraged Laird Hamilton (see reference to humourless mag spread below) by dancing nude on a bar at Namotu (he’s also said to have streaked down a famous European boulevard).

It’s widely recognised that the Queenscliff and LongReef Boardriders clubs spend more time nude at the Surf Fest than they do in contest rashies. Eighties label Umgawa sponsored a Nude Classic at Point Addis – it was once won by shaper Mark Phipps, surfing starkers on a door. The nude surfing contest at Bondi, now sadly defunct alongside the practice of ordering a beer after sunset, was won twice by a man named, ahem, Rod Cox.

Illustration by Nanda Ormond.

Art is where humour goes to die, and although Joel Fitz might have paddled out in the buff to harass Wayne Lynch during the Glass Love sessions, our only other reference point for cultured nudity is the lifeless voyeurism of the ESPN Body Issue in 2014: Laird, Kelly, Courtney Conlogue and Coco Ho looking for all the world like they were chiselled from marble by Rodin. Which is as much a comment on their demeanour as their anatomy. Mason Ho perhaps redeemed the delicate art of nuding up with his Stab cover, but then, he makes every silly idea look like genius.

Casting aside all other causes, it’s the thrashings that deliver the flashings. Karl Atkins towing in at monster Shipsterns, hair flowing and coyly tucked like the Venus de Milo. Bruce Irons losing his strides in front of a phalanx of cameras during the Code Red Swell. Koby Abberton wearing nothing but a necklace tatt at huge Nias after a 1996 flogging shredded the boardies off him and he had to walk back to camp starkers.

SW’s curmudgeon-in-chief Jon Frank once surfed Waimea in nothing but his glorious pelt of highly-prized fur. He worries it was disrespectful. I’d say it was history closing the circle.

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Jock Serong